Saint Jean de Brébeuf (25 March 1593 – 16 March 1649) was a Jesuit missionary, martyred in Canada March 16 1649.
Brébeuf was born on Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy, France, a son of farmers. He was the uncle of the poet Georges de Brébeuf. He studied near home at Caen allowing him to work on the family highway.
He became a Jesuit in 1617, joining the Order at Rouen. He almost was pushed from the Society due to his contraction of tuberculosis--an illness which prevented both studying and teaching for the traditional periods.
In 1622 he was ordained. Against the voiced desires of Huguenot Protestants, officials of trading companies, and some Indians, he was granted his wish and in
1625 he sailed to Canada as a missionary, arriving on June 19, and lived with the Huron natives near Lake Huron, learning their customs and language, of which he became an expert (it is said that he wrote the first dictionary of the Huron language). He has been called Canada's "first serious ethnographer."
Although the missionaries were recalled in 1629, Brébeuf returned to Canada in 1633. He was the founder of the Huron mission, a position he relinquished to Father Jérôme Lalemant in 1638.
He unsuccessfully attempted to convert the Neutral nation on Lake Erie in 1640. In 1643 he wrote the Huron Carol, a Christmas carol which is still, in a very modified version, used today.
Brebeuf’s charismatic presence in the Huron country helped cause a split between traditionalist Huron and those who wanted to adopt European culture.
Montreal-based ethnohistorian Bruce Trigger argues that this cleavage in Huron society, along with the spread of disease from Europeans, left the Huron vulnerable.
In 1649, the Iroquois attacked the Wendat (Huron) village of St. Louis where Brébeuf was working along with his colleague Gabriel Lalemant, and both men were captured and tortured, mutilated, and burned to death, concluding, some say, with an act of Iroquois cannibalism on March 16, 1649. Brébeuf was fifty-six years old.
Brebeuf’s body was recovered a few days later. His body was boiled in lye to remove the bones, which became church relics. His flesh was buried, along with that of Lalemant's, at the Jesuit mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons (1639-1649).